Hands-on learning at JJ Cairns
Internships focus on practical education
Educators get excited when a new program has an immediate positive effect on students and creates an enthusiasm for learning at their school. One Lindsay school has adopted an innovative new approach to educating its students, and the response has exceeded expectations.
John J. Cairns High School, the continuation high school of the Lindsay Unified School District, is in its second year of an internship program that is changing the way its students view their education by combining classroom lessons with hands-on lessons in the workplace.
“We build a personalized learning plan for every learner, and part of that plan is their interests post-high school,” said Dennis Doane, principal of John J. Cairns High School.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, all JJC students grades 10 through 12 spend the entire day out in the community with a local business partner, doing work related to what they might be interested in doing after high school. Participation in this Learning Through Internships (LTI) program is part of the school’s requirements for graduation.
Students can choose from a variety of internship options, or propose their own idea for an internship based on their interests. In the program’s first year, JJC students interned as welders, medical assistants, teachers, office managers, bakers, electricians, and veterinary assistants among several other occupations. This year, over 100 students are participating in internships at 60 sites around Tulare County.
Concepts relevant to the internship are also incorporated into the curriculum of their classroom studies on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with cross-curricular projects. For example, one intern working at Lindsay Tire last year asked his mentor about oil disposal. That question later evolved into a relevant classroom lesson about EPA regulations and environmental awareness.
At the end of each semester, students make a 45 to 60 minute presentation about their internship experience. In the program’s first year, 90 percent of parents showed up for this event.
The new internship program is the result of a collaboration between JJC staff and Big Picture Learning, a non-profit organization dedicated to a fundamental redesign of education throughout the United States. Together, they designed a program where students would spend considerable time in the community under the tutelage of mentors, and would not be evaluated solely by standardized test scores. Instead, students would also be assessed on ethics, motivation, and work habits — a more accurate depiction of the real world evaluations they will experience as members of the workforce.
“We design education around the learner,” said Doane. “We base our spending on what they need, we make decisions based on what they need, we hire based on what they need. No longer is it about the convenience of the educator, it’s about the priority of the learner.”
Business mentors are asked to treat student interns like employees, including hiring, firing and discipline. If a student falls short on one of the internship requirements, JJC staff approach it as yet another opportunity to learn.
After the internship program’s first year at JJC in 2016-17, staff saw an immediate improvement in student participation. Suspensions dropped from 10 to 4 percent, attendance jumped from 83 to 96 percent, and graduation rate improved from 78 to 90 percent. Last year, 90 percent of JJC graduates had a post-high school plan, including junior college and trade school enrollments.
“It [the internship program] has impacted our discipline, attendance and graduation rate because the students want to be here,” said Doane
Elvin Rodriguez, JJC senior and current intern at Wild Bill’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor in Lindsay, is enjoying the hands-on component the internship brings to his education.
“It’s good because you get to put your hands on the work you want to do,” said Rodriguez. When he isn’t cleaning and preparing the shop for business, he gains valuable experience by shadowing the barbers, learning haircutting techniques as well as tips on how to be a reliable professional. Rodriguez hopes to attend Bakersfield Barber College after graduation and someday open his own barber shop.
Rick Loftin, owner of Wild Bill’s and business mentor for JJC High School, appreciates the extra help around the shop, but hopes that his interns learn valuable life lessons as well.
“When you walk into a business, make eye contact and shake someone’s hand, you make an impression before saying anything,” said Loftin. “I want [my interns] to finish this experience with a sense of confidence that they can instill in their lives and carry with them when they leave.”
Elvin Rodriguez, 17, center, observes the haircutting techniques of Sergio Flores Tuesday, at Wild Bill’s Barbershop & Shave Parlor in Lindsay. Rodriguez, a senior at J.J. Cairns High School, works at the parlor twice a week as part of the school’s internship program.
Elvin Rodriguez, 17, center, sweeps the floor as owner Rick Loftin and Sergio Flores tend to customers Tuesday.